A 9-year-old girl pepper-sprayed by police in Rochester, New York, last month pleaded, “Officer, please don’t do this to me” as she waited handcuffed in the back seat of a police car, according to new police body camera video released Thursday.
“You did it to yourself, hon,” a female officer in the front seat replies.
The nearly 90-minute video is a compilation of edited footage from officers’ cameras. The police department has previously said officers were responding to a report of “family trouble.”
In the extended video of the Jan. 29 incident, the girl can be heard sobbing, whimpering and repeatedly saying, “I want my dad.” She also tells police that her handcuffs are too tight and that her eyes are burning. She asks multiple times when an ambulance will come to clean the pepper spray from her eyes and begs to have the handcuffs removed. An officer can be heard telling her an ambulance is on its way.
“If you stick your head towards the window, the cold air is going to feel nice,” an officer tells her.
“It’s burning too bad,” the girl says.
“It’s supposed to burn. It’s called pepper spray,” an officer responds.
An ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after the girl was pepper-sprayed, the Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester newspaper, estimated. The newspaper said that more than 23 minutes passed before one of the handcuffs she had been placed in was removed.
The new video is from the body cameras of several officers and was redacted to blur the girl’s face. Mayor Lovely Warren had said she would release all of the video from the body cameras after they had been redacted.
“We are committed to being transparent and sharing all of the information and video regarding this incident and all of our investigations with the community,” Warren said in a statement Thursday. “I continue to share our community’s outrage for the treatment of this child and have ensured that she and her family have been connected to the support they need though our Person in Crisis team.”
The newly released video offers a fuller picture of the incident that has garnered international attention and drawn renewed scrutiny to an embattled police department. The officers’ handling of a child in distress has sparked local protests and calls for immediate police reform. The officers’ actions have been condemned by Warren, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Rochester police are under scrutiny for the death of Daniel Prude in police custody last year. Police handcuffed Prude, a Black man, placed a spit hood on his head and pressed him to the ground. The body camera video in Prude’s case was released six months after his death, only after his family sued the city. It showed Prude, who had mental health issues, handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head.
Cuomo said the videos released Thursday were “even more shocking and disturbing” than earlier footage of the encounter.
“This is symptomatic of a broader problem — the relationship between police and communities is damaged and needs to be fixed,” he said in a statement. “Officers are sworn to protect and serve and this horrific behavior can never be tolerated.”
A police spokesman, Capt. Mark Mura, said Friday that nine officers responded to the scene, four of whom “were actively dealing with the 9-year-old.” One officer was suspended and three others were placed on administrative leave, he said.
Officers responded to a report of “family trouble,” Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said Jan. 31. “Officers were made aware that a 9-year-old” girl “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom” and that she initially tried to run away, Anderson said.
Footage released days after the incident shows authorities handcuffing the girl while she repeatedly screams for her father and refuses to get in the vehicle.
In the video, officers can be heard saying they would pepper-spray her if she continued to resist.
The girl’s mother, Elba Pope, previously told NBC News that she called police during an argument with her spouse. Pope said she would sue the city and the police department. She has filed a notice of claim.
“No one who would treat a 9-year-old child like that should be in law enforcement to help anyone,” she said.
Her lawyer, Donald Thompson, said Friday that Pope had seen the new video, which he described as “disturbing and abhorrent” and that she was traumatized again.
Thompson said: “It causes one to question: What kind of adult feels that their only option in a situation like that is to pepper-spray a 9-year-old child?”
“It’s more of the same,” he said. “It makes all that much more clear that the Rochester Police Department has some significant issues with recruitment, hiring and training of its officers and their ability to appropriately respond to potential mental health situations.”